Fitness Trackers Accurately Measure Heart Rate But Not Calories Burned, Study Finds

Fitness Trackers Accurately Measure Heart Rate But Not Calories Burned, Study Finds
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Stanford University Medical Center

Stanford University Medical Center (click to view)

Stanford University Medical Center


Millions of people wear some kind of wristband activity tracker and use the device to monitor their own exercise and health, often sharing the data with their physician. But is the data accurate?

Such people can take heart in knowing that if the device measures heart rate, it’s probably doing a good job, a team of researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine reports. But if it measures energy expenditure, it’s probably off by a significant amount.

An evaluation of seven devices in a diverse group of 60 volunteers showed that six of the devices measured heart rate with an error rate of less than 5 percent. The team evaluated the Apple Watch, Basis Peak, Fitbit Surge, Microsoft Band, Mio Alpha 2, PulseOn and the Samsung Gear S2. Some devices were more accurate than others, and factors such as skin color and body mass index affected the measurements.

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In contrast, none of the seven devices measured energy expenditure accurately, the study found. Even the most accurate device was off by an average of 27 percent. And the least accurate was off by 93 percent.

“People are basing life decisions on the data provided by these devices,” said Euan Ashley, DPhil, FRCP, professor of cardiovascular medicine, of genetics and of biomedical data science at Stanford. But consumer devices aren’t held to the same standards as medical-grade devices, and it’s hard for doctors to know what to make of heart-rate data and other data from a patient’s wearable device, he said.

A paper reporting the researchers’ findings will be published online May 24 in the Journal of Personalized Medicine. Ashley is the senior author. Lead authorship is shared by graduate student Anna Shcherbina, visiting assistant professor Mikael Mattsson, PhD, and senior research scientist Daryl Waggott.

Click here to read the full press release.

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